FOREIGN AFFAIRS: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Romney draws level with Obama in presidential race
, November 10, 2012
This article was written before News Weekly went to press on October 31, and before American voters cast their vote on November 6. Barack Obama has been re-elected President of the United States of America.
Two weeks before the presidential election, which will shape America for the next four years, the Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, drew level with President Barack Obama after trailing consistently since the party primaries some months ago. At the time of writing, the momentum had swung towards the challenger.
Even before the third and final presidential debate on October 22 (US time), a range of US polls showed that Romney had clawed his way back into the race, being ahead in polls conducted by Gallup Tracking, the Rasmussen Report, Reuters news agency, and others.
For President Obama, the main concern is that the tide of opinion seems to be swinging against him on a number of issues. Despite the President’s efforts to mobilise Latino and black Americans behind him, there is a widespread perception that under Obama the economy has stagnated.
Obama has also antagonised social conservatives by his support for abortion and same-sex marriage.
This is important as voting in the US is not compulsory, and both sides commit heavily to getting their supporters to vote.
Further, Obama’s efforts to encourage the Arab Spring — in the naïve belief that it would lead to democratisation in the region — have turned out to be entirely self-defeating. Islamist forces have now won power in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, murdered the US Ambassador in Libya, and threaten to seize control of Afghanistan and Syria.
The Obama Administration has imposed sanctions on Iran over its program of enriching uranium to make the country nuclear weapons-capable. Nevertheless Iran has defiantly declared its intention to proceed, despite a collapsing economy, hyperinflation and declining oil revenues.
In the third presidential debate, dealing with foreign policy, Mr Romney and President Obama swapped barbs about each other’s competence, but also tried hard to avoid subjects which might allow them to be construed as uninformed or unsophisticated in dealing with complex global challenges.
One Canadian observer, Patrick Martin, observed, “The fact that on foreign policy there was nothing dramatically different about the Obama and Romney positions on Iran or Syria (or Libya, Iraq and Israel for that matter) meant that candidate Romney achieved his most important goal. He could not be described as extreme, since that would have meant President Obama was equally extreme.”
Martin added, “In the course of the 90-minute debate, Mr Romney displayed sufficient knowledge of foreign issues and adequate strength of character to avoid being tagged as either uninformed or weak.
“And by taking any foreign policy difference out of the equation, the election now is likely to be won on the economy, the battleground that Mr Romney prefers, and where Mr Obama’s strengths are more limited.”
John O’Sullivan, editor-at-large of National Review, even went so far as to say that the television debates had turned the election.
He said, “Monday night’s debate probably decided the 2012 presidential election for Governor Mitt Romney. This is a hesitant prediction because there might be many October surprises, extraneous to the debates, that divert the current direction of opinion between now and November the 6th. But the three debates have allowed voters to ‘see’ the two candidates directly and clearly and, above all, without the distorting medium of either favourable advertising or hostile reporting.
“Taken together, the three debates have helped Romney rather than the President. Beforehand Romney was seen as a remote, calculating, unsympathetic, cold-hearted venture capitalist. Now that they are complete, he has a far more favourable image: well-informed, authoritative, presidential.
“President Obama by contrast is seen as a competent and well-informed executive but less the towering world-historical figure who won the 2008 election. These transformations were the result of the debates which entirely overturned the previous conventional wisdom that presidential debates have little impact on the election itself.”
As both the President and Mr Romney embarked on a frantic round of last-minute appearances in swing states, Heritage Foundation experts challenged several of President Obama’s statements in the last debate.
Referring to the defence budget, Baker Spring, research fellow on National Security Policy, said, “During the debate, President Obama asserted that his budget proposal maintains defence at about current levels. This is simply untrue.
“Here are the numbers from his Office of Management and Budget from this year’s budget request: in fiscal year 2010, defence spending was $721.3 billion in budget authority. Under the President’s proposal, defence spending will fall to $566.3 billion in fiscal year 2014. This is a 21 percent reduction in just four years.”
He added, “America’s military is the single most valuable contributor to increasing the likelihood of a peaceful and prosperous world. Large-scale reductions in the defence budget, therefore, put the prospects of a peaceful and prosperous world further out of reach.”